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Asmara

An Eritrean Contribution to World Heritage

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Brief History

Asmara represents perhaps the most concentrated and intact assemblage of Modernist architecture anywhere in the world; the Asmara Historic Perimeter remaining largely untouched since the 1930’s. 

Before Incorporation

Asmara is the site of an ancient highland village called ‘Arbate Asmara’. In 1885, the Italians invaded Eritrea and by 1900. Asmara had become the capital city. The site was chosen for its salubrious highland climate, reliable water supply and ideal geographic location in the centre of Eritrea. At this time Asmara represented little more than a tiny highland village.

Italian Asmara

grew incrementally to become a well-established town by the 1920s. However, by the 1930s, it was clear that Italy, under the rule of Mussolini, was intent on invading neighboring Ethiopia and would use Eritrea as the launch pad for this long-held ambition. 

From 1935-1941, thousands of buildings were constructed in the city, most of which reflect various Modernist styles and some of which represent inimitable architectural forms, such as petrol stations mimicking aeroplanes and boats, commercial buildings designed as trains, cavernous cinemas with fine period plasterwork and Art Deco interiors, fine ultra-modern hotels and offices, and government buildings with highly politicized monumental designs. 

Cultural Assets Rehabilitation Project

Eritrea has been subject to continuous unrest due to its struggle for independence, which it won in 1991. This unrest, ironically, has served to protect Asmara’s unique urban heritage. The Government of Eritrea established the Cultural Assets Rehabilitation Project (CARP) in 1999 to preserve and promote the unique architectural heritage of Asmara. 

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